The best news out of the talks between the NFL Players Association, the league and a Washington mediator is that there hasn't been a leak of any kind.
Ask any labor negotiator, and he/she will tell you one of the most important things in negotiating a deal between contentious parties is the ability to talk frankly, without fear of words being twisted and taken out of context. You saw the firestorm that the remarks from Carolina owner Jerry Richardson, a leading owners' negotiator, created when he allegedly talked down to players in a labor meeting earlier this month. Whatever was said -- and it is certain he said some things that angered the players in the room -- it's clear the publicizing of that story showed what a short fuse both sides had entering the serious part of these talks.
"I agree,'' said Jets safety Jim Leonhard, an NFL player representative, Tuesday morning on our Sirius NFL Radio show. "Everyone was starting to get frustrated with the banter going back and forth ... It's better to let the negotiating process work its course.''
That's why it's important the players can sit in a room with an impartial referee, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service director George Cohen, and tell him the owners are full of hot air. The owners can then get Cohen's ear and tell him the players have too much of a sweetheart deal. Honesty on both sides is vital, and when the outside world is listening and information is being leaked from the meetings, that's not going to encourage an honest discourse.
The longer the two sides are together with the mediator, the better the chances are for a rational solution to a deep and complicated problem. But I'm not changing my opinion yet. I still think it's highly unlikely a deal will be struck by early March, in time to avoid a lockout by the owners. I still think it's a better chance than not that the dispute will last into the summer. And maybe the fall, unfortunately. But let's see how good a referee Cohen can be over the coming days.
Now, a smart batch of inquiries from readers:
• THIS IS A GREAT QUESTION. "Do you think the likelihood of a rookie wage scale will cause teams to take more risks at the top of the draft? For instance, the consensus seems to be that Cam Newton has a lot of athletic ability, but there are a lot of questions surrounding him because of his limited body of work, as well as the off-field stuff. While most teams would seem to hesitate at giving a player like this a guaranteed contract in the $40-50 million range, the risk might be worth the potential reward at $5-10 million guaranteed, or whatever the top rookies might get under the new CBA.''--Mike Sebastino, Fincastle, Va.
Superb question. It's one I'll be asking general managers at the NFL Scouting Combine later this week. I think the answer is yes. Because there is a chance of a rookie wage scale being implemented this year, the Buffalo Bills have to be thinking of Newton with the potential guaranteed money difference -- and I wouldn't be surprised if the Panthers, at number one, will include that as part of their draft deliberations too.
TONY PAULINE: NFL Scouting Combine storylines
• THIS IS A GOOD IDEA. "Peter, does the NFL have a mandatory head injuries seminar where players see the slides of the diseased brains of former players? As a teenager I remember seeing photos of diseased genitalia during sex education class and it certainly made me never want to end up like that. Do you think it would help to up the respect factor between players?''--Steve Ratka, Buffalo
I'm not sure if players have seen such evidence, but there's no doubt it would help their understanding of the severity of the issue. I know it slapped me in the face last fall when I saw slides of the damaged brains of retired players.
• AGREED. "Being a Pats fan, I hate to say this; I think the best single game plan by any coach this year was Sexy Rexy's game plan against the Pats in the divisional round. What do you think? Were there any other game plans that stood out to you last season?''--Don, Boston
What Rex Ryan did that day was show Tom Brady looks that he hadn't seen in four previous meetings with Ryan's Jet teams over the previous two years, including some suggested by the players. They may not have resulted in turnovers, but according to Jim Leonhard on our Sirius show Tuesday morning, they did result in creating more pressure than Brady had seen in prior meetings.
The other game plan I liked the most during the season was Cleveland's against the Patriots -- the one with the cool fake called "Brownie'' that broke open a close game at the end of the first half and resulted in a stunning end-run touchdown by Chansi Stuckey. I liked a lot of things Eric Mangini did last fall, but obviously he didn't do enough of them to keep his job.
• WHAT A BIG SURPRISE. "How much of an idiot is Bryant McKinnie? Heading into a work stoppage and he blows $120K on a bar tab? I'm sure the other NFL players want to wring his neck.''--Al, St. Paul, Minn.
The funny thing was the people who Tweeted me in defense of McKinnie ("It's a free country" was the gist) saying he has every right in the world to blow six-figures one night in a bar. That is priceless. I wonder, 15 years from now if McKinnie is indigent, what those same folks will say.
• HE SEES THE DEATH OF THE NFL. "I think we are seeing the dawn of the demise of the NFL. Pompous owners operating without financial transparency looking to glut even more revenue, while ruining the game experience with outlandish parking fees, sky high concessions and PSLs. The average citizen can no longer afford to take the family to a game. Our patience with those that make billions while killing the golden goose is gone.''--Ray, Pensacola, Fla.
Thanks for your input. You are not alone.